One only needs to glance at Netflix to see that shows about meeting potential partners are a major part of streaming entertainment. However, the vast majority of shows feature young, classically beautiful contestants. What these shows seem to ignore (unlike the very popular and celebrated First Dates) is that 20-somethings aren’t the only demographic in the dating and singles world. According to Spain’s National Institute of Statistics, not only are divorce rates continuing to rise (in 2021, they increased by 13.2% over the previous year), but the highest number of divorces and separations took place among people between 40 and 49 years old.
Anyone who enters the dating scene as an adult — especially after having been part of a couple for many years — will soon learn that, in just a few years, technology has revolutionized how people meet and relate to each other. “Technological advances have allowed us to eliminate certain limitations in relating with other people that had existed for years, such as physical distance, for example,” explains Aurelio Conde, a consultant at Ourtime, a dating app exclusively for people over 50. “In addition, we are going to find greater ease and immediacy when meeting people.” He adds that “the so-called baby boomer generation has several things in common. They are looking for discretion and, for them, love does not imply marriage. According to our studies, only 7% define marriage as the perfect relationship. In addition, 27% think that living separately is the ideal way to maintain the relationship.”
“Now it’s a different world,” says J.S., a 42-year-old filmmaker. “Before, everything was visual: practically without speaking, you could be making out on the dance floor and know the girl’s name and profession the next morning. With apps, people falsely believe that physical attraction is what attracts another person, but what really hooks you is the hard work you put in over the next four days to find out that, when you meet in person, there’s no chemistry. Before, if you were a little absent-minded, you could fall in love with a prison guard, but now you don’t meet anyone unless they have a bachelor’s degree and two masters.″
Carmen Fábrega, a 49-year-old Ourtime user, started going onto online dating pages when she was 45. She has also witnessed a change in dating. “The types of contacts have changed quite a bit; people are in more of a hurry to start a relationship. To avoid getting overwhelmed when starting to date again, I would tell people to take baby steps so that you can go in more confidently. People want to get into a relationship right away because they think that time is running out.”
Jose Manuel, a 41-year-old project manager, insists that dating has changed. “Today, everything is more direct and there’s much less commitment. If you’re looking for a travel companion, it’s hard. We all carry emotional baggage, and we are not to blame for another person’s baggage. Now, in general, people are more open-minded, although there are still a lot of prejudices, even when people are open-minded. I have tried Tinder, and it seems like a meat market to me. There is a lot of lying. Those pictures... do not reflect reality”.
Conversations, texting and sexting
Jose Manuel was talking about emotional baggage, a concept that is one reason why getting back into the dating scene is so difficult. How we present ourselves to a potential match when we are 50 is different from when we are 20: we carry a lot more baggage with us — a few ex-partners and sometimes children as well. “Badmouthing someone, bringing up traumatic experiences on a first date or mentioning past relationships is not the best approach,” advises Aurelio Conde. “It doesn’t make sense to talk about your exes on a date. Save the details about your breakups. And above all, don’t compare your date to any former partners.” When talking about children, the matter has to be addressed even more slowly; if there is a formal introduction of children to a new partner, it should be “done deliberately, without trying to force any situation and choosing the right moment.”
Verónica Alcanda is the owner of Alcanda Matchmaking, an exclusive agency whose clients can find a partner through services that start at €7,000 and go up to €15,000 (in the United States, one can spend up to €25,000 looking for a partner). It is becoming increasingly common in Spain for divorced people to rely on such specialized services. “It is an active search: we are emotional managers. A client who hires us pays and says exactly what profile of person s/he wants. Then there is the candidate, who, although s/he does not pay, joins my company. I call that a passive search. The candidates are screened in three interviews, and we sign a confidentiality and truthfulness agreement; although they are not providing services, we confirm that they are looking for certain things and that they will respect privacy throughout the process. Many of my clients are people who were disconnected from this world, and they find themselves in a cut-throat world.”
“Eighty percent of my clients are between 40 and 55 years old; they are divorced or in the process of getting divorced,” Alcanda continues. “Many of them have been married for 25 years. The team helps them and gives them a reality check: the dating world has changed. Wealthy people who have been in couples for 20 and 30 years don’t get on social networks, because they don’t want to expose themselves or waste their time.”
Although sexting (exchanging messages or photos with erotic content) is more common among young people, those who return to the dating world are finding that increasingly more people are doing it, which many find striking and even intimidating. From platforms such as Ourtime, Conde tries to help his users understand that this practice exists and is just another form of eroticism. “It’s no better or worse than other kinds,” he says. “We only convey the message that the decision to engage [in sexting] is up to each person, and no one should be forced to do it by a partner or an environment. [We also point out that] it should always be done using secure or encrypted apps.” Judith Mesa, a therapist at Vivofácil, is more adamant about this issue and always recommends that her patients not send photos or videos with sexual content.
But let’s talk about sex
After a long relationship, there are established sexual habits and certain customs to break, as well as a certain dread of having sex with someone new. “Talking about getting to know each other also implies talking about sex, intimacy and pleasure. We are most likely scared to be with someone we don’t know intimately. The amount of time one has gone without sex does not diminish or hinder one’s abilities,” says Aurelio Conde.
But has sex really changed? “In the time that I’ve been single, I’ve been surprised by how the roles traditionally assigned to us when it comes to relating to each other still endure,” explains Sergio, a 43-year-old receptionist. “In most cases, after a match, women still feel that it is the man’s responsibility to initiate the conversation, as well as the first kiss. That anachronism has been my experience. I have noticed a greater determination in women as regards pure intimacy. I think it is because I am now dealing with girls over 40 who are clearer on all these issues. I have tried Tinder and many other apps, but everyone is on Tinder. I’ve met some wonderful people with whom I’ve had beautiful experiences, but in the end, none of them ever matched what I wanted. Sometimes I’ve felt that, even after dealing with each other on an ongoing basis and discovering that something worthwhile was emerging, they never stopped seeing me as a Tinder profile, and I found that frustrating.”
The profile is everything
Therapist Judith Mesa notes that more and more people over 40 are coming to her office after a divorce wanting to get back into the dating world. She gives them all the same tips for when they want to use dating apps. First, they should carefully analyze the profiles. Second, they must be wary of people who claim not to have social media (it’s a good way to check if there is a person and a story behind a picture and, more to the point, if they are really single and not someone married looking for a fling). Third, if there is rapport and chemistry, don’t overextend time spent in online conversation without having an in-person date. Face-to-face impressions can change everything. Fourth, explain exactly what you are looking for (and ask the other person the same question).
“Emotional availability is not the same in all cases; if it doesn’t match, that can lead to disappointment.” And fifth, be prepared for ghosting, that is, the possibility that a conversation may end abruptly, and you may never hear from the other person again, no matter how you may feel about them. Sadly, we don’t age out of certain behaviors.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition